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Bush Pledges to Help in Liberia, but Still Undecided About Sending Troops - 2003-07-09


U.S. President George W. Bush is in South Africa where he says the United States will take part in efforts to end Liberia's civil war. Mr. Bush says he has still not decided whether to send American troops to Liberia.

With a U.S. assessment team on the ground in Liberia, President Bush says that the most important thing now is for Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down, in keeping with a regionally-brokered cease-fire.

"The United States strongly supports the cease-fire agreement signed last month," said Mr. Bush. "President Taylor needs to leave Liberia, so that his country can be spared further grief and bloodshed."

Many African leaders want Mr. Bush to send U.S. troops to take part in a planned regional peacekeeping force. He says he is waiting to hear from the American assessment team before making that decision.

If he does send those troops, Mr. Bush says, it will not overextend the U.S. military, which is currently involved in operations from Afghanistan to Iraq to Kosovo.

Mr. Bush discussed the issue Tuesday in Senegal with Ghanaian President John Kufour, who heads the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS. He says he told the Ghanaian leader that the United States will take part in the peacekeeping process, and is now determining the extent of that participation.

"I assured him the United States will work closely with ECOWAS and the United Nations to maintain the cease-fire and to enable a peaceful transfer of power," said President Bush.

Mr. Bush spoke with reporters following a meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki, who said he appreciates the American leader's commitment to supporting regional efforts to end Liberia's civil war.

"The U.S. will cooperate with the African troops that will go there, so we are not saying that this is a burden that just falls on the United States," said President Mbeki. "It really ought to principally fall on us, as Africans. Of course, we need a lot of support logistics-wise, and so on, to do that. But the will is there."

South Africa is the second stop on the president's five-nation tour. He will visit Botswana Thursday before continuing on to Uganda and Nigeria.

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